In the course of our coverage of mini-PCs, we have seen offerings from vendors such as ASRock, GIGABYTE and Zotac targeting the gaming market. Usually, 'mini' doesn't fit the requirements of consumers in this space, but the appearance of power-efficient high performance GPUs have made the offerings in the gaming mini-PC space quite interesting. Zotac has been creating mini-PCs with a gaming focus by tying a mobile NVIDIA GPU with a Core U-series Intel CPU for a couple of generations now. Today, we will be taking a look at the Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 - a system combining a Broadwell-U CPU with a NVIDIA Maxwell GM204 mobile GPU.

Introduction and Setup Impressions

The ZBOX E-series targets the gaming market. In the previous years, the E-series adopted a tried and tested industrial design (for example, the chassis of the ZBOX EI750 was very similar to that of the PCs in the ZBOX ID series). The MAGNUS EN970 adopts a radically different industrial design. The unit is not as small as the NUCs, even though the height is similar. The area of the top side is around the same as that of the ASRock Vision series. However, the absence of an optical drive slot enables a chassis with considerably lower thickness.

The specifications of our Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 Specifications
Processor Intel Core I5-5200U
Broadwell-U, 2C/4T, 2.7GHz, 14nm, 3MB L2, 15W
Memory 2 x 8 GB DDR3L @ 1600MHz
Graphics NVIDIA GTX 960 (as per drivers),
'a rebadged GTX 970M (hardware-wise)'
Disk Drive(s) 128 GB OCZ Vector
Networking 2x 1GbE Realtek RTL8168 +
1x1 Intel Wireless-AC 3160 802.11ac
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 8.1 Pro x64
Pricing (As configured) USD $978, Barebones is $800
Full Specifications Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 Specifications

The Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 kit doesn't come with any pre-installed OS, but does come with a CD and a read-only USB key containing the drivers. In any case, we ended up installing the latest drivers from Zotac's product support page. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 180 W (19.5V @ 9.23A) adapter, a US power cord, a single 2.4 GHz / 5 GHz antenna for the Wi-Fi feature, a driver CD / read-only USB key, user's manual and a quick-start guide.

The gallery below takes us around the hardware in the unit.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970
CPU Intel Core i5-5200U Intel Core i5-5200U
GPU NVIDIA GTX 960 (3GB) [GTX 970M] NVIDIA GTX 960 (3GB) [GTX 970M]
RAM Panram Intl PSD3L1600C118G2VS
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2x8 GB
Panram Intl PSD3L1600C118G2VS
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage OCZ Vector
(128 GB; SATA 6Gb/s; 25nm; MLC)
OCZ Vector
(128 GB; SATA 6Gb/s; 25nm; MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $978
Barebones is $800
$978
Performance Metrics - I
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  • krystyin - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    It is the exact same box - except you can get it one whole month early. Reply
  • YukaKun - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    I love the idea and concept, but I think it's still far from perfect execution on 2 accounts:

    1.- They could compromise an inch or less for height and put a beefier CPU in there without sacrificing a lot of space, but giving a HUGE performance and life longevity boost.
    2.- Sound does not seem to be something they cares much about. For that price range and fighting for Living Room space, they need to show more sound options and connectivity. Good on the HDMI front, but I did not see an optical nor RCA SPDIF connector. Plus, no DP can be forgiven, but still hurts IMO.

    I think the price is also high, but if this delivers in acoustics and brute performance in such a nice small package, it justifies the price. Most great notebooks that come close to this are over 1K.

    Cheers!
    Reply
  • wintermute000 - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - link

    Also, for this price I'd want HDCP 2.2 and 4k/60fps hardware HEVC10.

    For this scenario you'd almost say a GTX960 based card would have been better for the HEVC10 and HDCP 2.2 (than a cut down GTX970) - even if you give up a few frames, I would not expect a 1k HTPC to lack ANY HTPC features
    Reply
  • abhaxus - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    Another article with a scrolling mobile ad. Closing after the first page. AT is fast losing any relevance it had before the loss of Anand and the buyout. Late coverage on important releases, less filler content, poor news section, embarrassing advertising. AT was the reason I uninstalled AdBlock years ago because I wanted to support the site and others like it. I remember when you offered instructions on the site for how to turn off the annoying word highlight ads on your help page. Now this. Just sad. Reply
  • vortexmak - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    All the disadvantages of a laptop with none of the mobility Reply
  • lmcd - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - link

    Not true -- the mobility counts for frequent long-distant mobility. Really interesting as a college student on a budget. Reply
  • HigherState - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    I cannot get past price/performance. A PC in a Silverstone mini-itx case (or equivalent) can get you the same performance for lower price. "Oh the box isn't as small as my appleTV :( "........please. Maybe I'm not the target audience. Reply
  • meacupla - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - link

    The story becomes different when you want to lug around a gaming PC in a suitcase, especially carry-on. Reply
  • SpartyOn - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    These small gaming NUCs do not compute for me... Why pay the SFF premium to get essentially a laptop in a box - without the mobility? If you use Steam for your games, there is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to buy a SFF PC anymore.

    Just buy/build whatever size computer you want - I use mITX because I actually do take my box to other people's houses, but any size box is fine - and leave it in one location in your home. Then just buy a compute stick or build a cheap NUC to stream games from the main rig to these inexpensive living room PCs.

    For $978 you could build a nice desktop GTX 970 system - immensely more powerful that the reviewed machine - and still have money left over for an inexpensive streaming solution. So not only do you get a better gaming computer, but you still have an HTPC to boot. Win-win.

    Maybe this serves LAN gamers who need an even smaller box than an mITX rig? I dunno, I have no trouble carting my mITX around with a full-size desktop card and if I did, I'd still just buy a laptop if I needed additional portability.

    10 years ago these things would have been awesome. Now their just a niche product for people who don't know any better.
    Reply
  • jordanclock - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    These absolutely have a purpose. It's in the living room. SFF PCs fit the same niche as consoles. They're small, relatively quiet and perform fine at 1080p. They're not meant for mobility and you won't get the same feature set for a similar price in a full ATX PC, unless you want something much louder and harder to fit in an entertainment center.

    Just because these kinds of PCs aren't for you, isn't to say they have no reason to exist.
    Reply

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